Monday, March 23, 2009

Gaining stability.

I know some of you are reading the title and wondering what it means. There's a few who just can't wait to tap dance all over my head with pointed comments. I'll be the first to agree that it could very well apply to my mental state. There ain't no cure for that, folks! This post has nothing to do with any of my scrambled brain cells. It might be a manifestation of said brain cells, but the post isn't about making them any better. So you just put those Blue Suede Shoes back in the closet with your Velvet Elvis. This has to do with photography.

Katie and I recently went to a funeral. It's always sad to see the folks who figured so prominently in your younger years pass away. Such was the case with Buck and Babe. I have a childhood buddy. We've gone different directions in the ensuing decades. He's a bird nut while I'm a bike nut. He leads ocean cruises to spot rare birds on weekends. I teach motorcycle safety classes on weekends.

Some guy's crouched patiently in the bushes with binoculars. Just in front of him is a tiny flock of some nearly extinct bird rarely seen in civilization. The birds are getting a little closer. Just a bit more and he'll get some rare photos that very few humans have ever snapped. That would be my buddy Greg.

Just at the critical moment some asshole on a motorcycle goes roaring by on the roadway. The bike doesn't have loud pipes. It does make noise, however. Especially when he beeps the horn at the pervert in the bushes with the binoculars. And what's this bright yellow and black creature rapidly bearing down on us? So ask the birds. You know birds. Off they fly, never to be seen by humans again in this lifetime. Greg shakes his fist at the jerk who violated his sacred moment. That jerk would be me. Yee freakin' haw!

Despite all that, nothing can erase our long history. We've raised kids together. We're still married to the same women we started with. We still make these women shake their heads when we talk about our teenage exploits. Greg and his wife live close again. Once upon a time they took up residence in Oxnard, California. It's not far out of L.A. The first time we went to see them was the first time I'd ever eaten shark. Purchased from a grocery store meat counter, no less! It would have been more fun to eat it in a restaurant, though. Never one to resist a bad joke, I wanted to see some little girl talking exitedly to her mother.

"Mommy, there's a man eating shark over there!"

Dang it. Meandered off onto a back road, again didn't I? Or maybe rode into the ditch. Told you there was no cure for my mental state. Buck and Babe were Greg's grandparents. Buck passed away around 11 years ago. Babe recently passed away at the age of 97. Describing this couple would take up a few posts on its own. Buck was an Intrepid Motorcyclist. I'd see the two of them all over town on a Honda CB175 like this.

Theirs had a big box of some sort on the back. Come Winter, the bike would be strapped onto the back bumper of their pickup, snuggled up against the camper. Buck and Babe were Snow Birds. They'd spend months down in Arizona picking up rocks and collectibles from the desert. Buck was a pretty fair camp fire guitar picker. Babe was always to be found on the back of the bike. I don't know so much how she felt about riding. She just felt that her place was with Buck. If he was on the bike, then she'd be right behind him. That little bike seemed to work just fine for them.

I saw Greg at the funeral, of course. We were comparing our photographic skills. Actually, Greg was laughing at me for not having any. I told him of my recent purchase of a 55-200mm lense to go with the Nikon D40 SLR camera. Greg says he regularly uses a 300mm but that's as big as he can focus without a tripod. I told Greg that my lense had some sort of anti vibration thing-a-ma-bob in it but my pictures still tended to blur a bit.

Next thing I know, Greg's tap dancing on my head. He tells me that maybe it's not the camera or lense. Actually, he says if the pictures are blurry with the 200mm lense that has a built-in stabilizer then it's definitely me. "What is it you say?", he asks. "Buying a 1000cc sport bike doesn't automatically make you a good rider?"

Man, that smarts.

Fast forward a few weeks. Lingering in the back of my mind was a post by John McClane. He showed a picture of something called a Gorilla Pod. I didn't take time to find the exact post to link to here. Sorry, John. I always admire how clean and crisp some of the photos in other blogs are. Steve Williams and Gail Hatch have exceptionally clean photos. I like the photos on most of the other blogs. No insult is meant because I only mentioned these two. I do have to say I like Conchscooter's photos quite a bit. Mostly for the human element he captures. That, and the fact that he gets away with lurking about at 2 AM snapping covert pictures.

Conch says he likes to use a small pocket camera. No muss, no fuss, just snap and go. AA battery powered and all. I can just see him in the wee dawn hours. Photo subject spotted. Camera in front pants pocket. The photo subject looks over at Conch.

Conch says, "Hang on a minute while I whip something out!" How does he get away with that? I'd get arrested for sure. With my luck, he'd be the dispatcher that got the call. He's make sure that about fifty cops swarmed on me. All on scooters. With no helmets. One of the scooters would have a milk crate on the back of it.

"Ok, Buddy! In the crate. We're taking you in!"

This is in no way, shape or form, any sort of comment on Key West's finest. I've taken a few jabs at Conch over on his blog and I can see him taking the chance to get back at me. That's one of the reasons I like him!

Anyway, I figure Steve and Gail have two things I don't. Great skills in making and developing their photos, and a tripod. Hey, I can do that, too! Yes, I could march right out and buy a tripod. It just hadn't come up on the top of the list, yet. Then fate stepped in.

Katie and I were wandering around Joe's. It's a sporting goods store. I took a Camelbak apart in December. Come March, and I forgot how to exactly put it back together. Okay, so maybe you shouldn't have put away your dancing shoes, just yet. We didn't find one just like it in Joe's but I finally figured it out. These new CamelBaks are more complicated than they look. Seriously. Before leaving the store, I decided to check the ammunition stock. Turning the corner, I had an unexpected encounter. Sort of like meeting an old flame. Something that's been on your mind but you never acted on it. Suddenly you're face to face. Such was the meeting with the rack that held several Gorilla Pods.

Except, unlike an old flame, I could actually fondle this one around Katie. Well, I could have done the same with an old flame, but I would have gotten my ass torched. Get it? Old flame, ass torched? Fine, be that way. Anyway, I took a Gorilla Pod home and hooked it to the camera. If you think I don't have any photography skills, then answer me this. Pretty good job getting the Nikon to take a self portrait with its new Gorilla Pod, isn't it? You don't believe that, do you? Then I can tell you've been looking at my photos for a long time.

Do you want to know what's really ironic? I used a point and shoot digital camera to take a picture of the Nikon with the tripod. Held in my hands. Freestyle. The tripod is supposed to make my photos a lot more clear and sharp. My freehand photo of the camera and tripod is one of the clearest and sharpest photos I've taken in forever. AAAAARRRGGGHHH!

I haven't taken a picture using the tripod, yet, but the anticipation is fun. One of these days I actually will snap a photo using the tripod. As soon as I can find the shutter release. I told you I can't resist a bad joke. Didn't I warn you?

I can see some advantages to this kind of tripod over one with rigid legs. I just hope I can keep it from getting wrapped around my neck!

Stay tuned. The photos here are bound to get better. Or not.

Miles and smiles,



Bryce said...

The Gorilla pod is a "perfect"compliment to your D40. And I am glad you picked up the 55-200 zoom with VR. The short standard lense that came with the D40 is OK for short range items.
And before anybody tells me I am nuts, the Gorilla Pod comes in three different sizes and now, colours!.
I think the best use of a Gorilla Pod was wrapping it around a long long
pole, with a small digital SLR on the end, and then using a remote trigger
and autofocus, do your photography from there. Sure beats standing on a ladder!

Conch can understand this; the photographs that accompany his history of the streets of Key West are superb; he should write a book about the city.
His blog is that good.

Now Dan, I want you to wrap the Gorilla Pod around the handlebar of Elvira, and wander off shooting photos as you
roam the course. Let somebody else see in pictures what it is like to do the
cone weave. And if your point and shoot
(not the D40) has a video function
do a video of the cone weave.! Or do a video of the whole test to pass.

The Gorilla Pod looks weird, however it does work. Ideal too for holding flash units on to items and triggering remotely. I have for years used a few
clamping pair of pliers with a 1/4-20
male thread welded on top to hold cameras and flash units. It could damage
some surfaces, the Gorilla Pod won't.

As to your birding friend...these days as we get older, we see people not at weddings, rather funerals. Take photos of same, with your point and shoot. Including the burial if possible.
When else do you get family together?

Oh, and your wish about participation;
just because the bike is going to be sold, doesn't mean I won't stop reading and participating. Motorcycling has been
a part of my life since 1962!

Charlie6 said...


for low light shots, if I remember, I drag along a tripod which I recently bought to replace one I lost. Of course, soon as I bought it, I found the old one. sigh.

I find it helps to bring in the elbows when doing it freehand, steady your breathing as if you're shooting a weapon. If caught in low lighting levels without a tripod, find nearest object to steady oneself, kind of.

My wife has the Nikon D50 and loves it, but more often than not, it'll be my 11 year old Olympus 4MP digital that goes in the saddle bag....go figure.

bobskoot said...

I was also looking at that Gorilla Pod for my bike, but instead purchased a Ram Mount. I wasn't sure how tight it would wrap around the handlebars. Will await your review.
All of us are writing photography related posts these days. I find that pictures are a way of re-living the good feelings of times past - a moment in time which hopefully brings back fond memories and a smile to your face.

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Baron's Life said...

This is a touching story...very well written, thoroughly enjoyed.
You guys wanna see some sharp, crisp pictures, then check this motorcyclist's ain't seen no pictures until you 've seen disrespect meant to anyone:

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Gentlemen:

It would make no difference what kind of camera of lense I had... I still have to ride a half day to get in the vicinity of something I'd like to take a picture of.

Since I cannot compete with your photographs in terms of clarity, I will concentrate on content, like pole dancers.

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

Lucky said...

As a former pro photographer, I gotta say that the tripod is the single most important tool any photographer has. As Mr. Popeil says, "set it and forget it."

Of course, I never bring my tripod with me when I'm on the bike, as it's bulky and time-consuming to set up when I'm perched on the edge of a road.

I gotta get one of them there Gorilla pods...

Earl Thomas said...

I've learned that I too have a heck of a time trying to get clear pictures without my tripod when I am shooting with anything above 200mm. I guess that I'm just too fidgety.


Conchscooter said...

The gorilla pod fits nicely in a saddlebag, a Canon Sx100 fits in my pocket so it's there to capture the people when they are cooperating and i whack 'em with the gorilla pod when they aren't (slow police response in key west you know. sigh).John Macclane hates his gorilla pod because he's weird. Unlike irondad who fondles his gorillapod and whose wife lets him. That's weird.
As a non photographer my most useful piece of advice received years ago was get in close, so I try. And I like to wrap my pod, as it were, around street sign poles which is best done at two in the morning as the light is poor and no one is around to see you.

Steve Williams said...

I suppose I should add my two cents here since I have been designated as having clean and crisp photographs on Scooter in the Sticks. It's funny, last night Kim and I were discussing photography, specifically what I consider her superior photographic eye and ability to see than my own which is strangled by too much attention to rules (like clean and crisp for instance).

I have to agree with your friend Greg -- a good camera (or a tripod) does not necessarily make a person a good photographer. Like riding you need a solid foundation and understanding of some of the basic principles that make an image. A tripod is nice and I have taken them along with me on the scooter but usually only when I want to make pictures of myself. For almost all other situations I can manage without it.


I'll risk some unsolicited advice---

I've not seen you in action with a camera Dan but I bet you introduce the lack of crispness you desire through inaccurate focus and camera shake. Understanding how the autofocus works (read the manual *grin*) will fix the first. Camera shake is much more of a challenge. Think of it in this manner -- you are firing a short barrel revolver at a target. You have to be very careful and steady when you pull the trigger if you want the bullet to go to the target. The same is true with a camera. Squeeeeeeeeze the shutter release slowly. Slowly and carefully. Sharpness will follow. And the anti-vibration stuff works, in part, by luck. Put the camera on the continuous shooting mode when you are shooting at slow speeds. Fire off several frames simultaneously with a slow release and holding very still. The theory is that you, the camera, and anti-vibration lenses will likely not be moving for one of the exposures. It works. I have successfully made sharp images with a 200mm lens at 1/4.

And then none of this is going to help with the way you interpret the subject. Like riding, practice, practice, practice. And look critically at what you shoot and ask "Is this good?" "What's wrong with it?" "What can I do better?" And then practice some more. With digital you can practice on the cheap.

There are lots of little tricks to improve your photography.

Anyways, I will climb down from my photography soapbox now.

If you have a Nikon D40s it is only a matter of time until you will be making exquisite pictures. Patience. Practice.

And I'm not sure things are as bad as you think. Your pictures look good to me. I always look at them!

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

irondad said...

I've seen those gorilla pod sizes. You're exactly right. I soon found that the standard 18-55 mm lense wasn't good for shots very far away. The 200mm seems to work well for most farther away subjects.

I'll think about the skills test evaluation thing.

Why are you using my blog to praise Conch? Geez!

Thanks for the tip on trying to steady the camera. I've tried using posts and the top of my truck, but the camera still rocks. That's why I chose the tripod.

I understand the new versus old camera thing. That's the same way I feel about Sophie versus Elvira.

Take care,


irondad said...

For long term use the Ram mount would definitely be the best bet. I find I like pictures the older I get. Is that because we live on memories more as we age? :)

Baron's Life,
Thank you for the kind words on the post. I checked out the site. You're right.

Take care,


irondad said...

Words cannot express how relieved I am that somebody is looking out for the pole dancers of the world. Have you thought about combining the two pursuits?

As in taking pictures of pole dancers? I might even visit your blog once in a while!

Take care,


irondad said...

Never knew you were a pro photographer. The things we keep learning, huh?

I'm sort of a pro, myself. I take photos and people pay me not to publish them!

Earl Thomas,
Maybe it's just those pesky Spokane winds!

Take care,


irondad said...

Thank you for providing alternate uses for the Gorilla Pod.

Perhaps my wife lets me fondle the tripod as a diversionary tactic. Well, never mind.

Who's calling who weird? Wrapping around a pole at 2 am? Sounds like one of Jack's pole dancers!

Take care,


irondad said...

Steve Williams,
Thank you for the counsel, oh, Guru! And for putting it into terms I can relate to.

My photography is like my guitar playing. I'm a technician, not a musician. I still enjoy it, though!

Take care,